A field of eight was entered in the 1 1/16-mile Razorback for older horses. One of the favorites, the front-running Spotsgone, could be scratched, trainer Jinks Fires said.
A 4-year-old Cherokee Run colt owned by Ron and Joan Winchell, Zanjero is 4-3-4 from 13 starts for earnings of $1,174,276, most of that coming via victories last year in the rich West Virginia (gr. III) and Indiana (gr. II) derbies.
Zanjero also placed in several other major stakes, including the Louisiana (gr. II) and Pennsylvania (gr. II) derbies and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) during a stellar campaign. His only out-of-the-money performance of the season came in a troubled 12th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Working well at Fair Grounds for his return, Zanjero will concede from one to six pounds to his rivals. The dark bay was vanned to Oaklawn assistant Kristin Crawford after a six-furlong move in a bullet 1:14 in New Orleans March 1.
Zanjero, who will leave from the six-hole with Luis S. Quinonez aboard for the first time, is making his debut at Oaklawn.
Robert Yagos' Spotsgone, who won the Essex Handicap (gr. III) Feb. 9 at Oaklawn in his last start, was off on his right front the morning of March 6, Fires said.
"Spotsgone was fine on Wednesday," Fires explained, "but when we threw the saddle on him (Thursday) morning, we noticed he was off in the right front. We found a bruise, and did him up in a poultice.
"We won't run Spotsgone unless we feel he's 100%. Sure, we want to run him because his owners are from Arkansas. But there are other races, and he's been too good a horse for us to take any chances. We need to do what's best for the horse. We'll decide Friday whether to run."
If he does run, Spotsgone break from post seven under regular rider Joe Johnson at 116 pounds, one pound more than he carried to victory in the Essex at the Razorback distance. That was the eighth victory in 31 starts for Spotsgone, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Bright Launch.
Spotsgone's defection would certainly improve the chances of Jonesboro, who figures as the only other speed horse in the lineup.
In the Essex, Jonesboro, with Jamie Theriot up, was rated two lengths off Spotsgone through moderate fractions as the 9-5 favorite, and fell a length short of catching the winner. This time, Calvin Borel figures to send Jonesboro, who traditionally does his best work on the lead.
Trainer Randy Morse and owner Michael Langford had toyed with the idea of sending Jonesboro to a stake at Delta Downs, but after the 6-year-old worked five furlongs in a bullet :59 3/5 March 2 at Oaklawn, they decided to stay home, where the chestnut is 3-1-1 from eight starts. Jonesboro ran third behind Magna Graduate and Student Council in the Razorback last year.
Overall, Jonesboro, who drew the two-hole, is 8-6-3 from 26 starts, and has earned $604,916 for Langford, who named the only stakes-winning offspring of champion Mom's Command for his hometown in northeast Arkansas.
Trainer Bobby Frankel entered Stronach Stables' Racketeer, who has been a bit of a disappointment on synthetic tracks in Southern California this season. After a second-place finish behind eventual Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Heatseeker in the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park in December, Racketeer ran fifth in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) and sixth in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) in back-to-back starts at Santa Anita in 2008. Clinton Potts takes the reins on the 5-year-old Awesome Again horse.
Even if he doesn't have Spotsgone, the veteran Fires will still start Prom Shoes, owned by main patron Patricia B. Blass. In 15 starts, Prom Shoes, a 4-year-old son of Include, is 3-4-0 from 15 starts and has banked $165,136.
In his last start, Prom Shoes finished fifth as the 3-1 second choice in the Essex, beaten seven lengths.
"We expected a big race from Prom Shoes in the Essex," Fires told Oaklawn's Roxanne Tanner, "but he didn't fire. This time we will put a different figure eight on him, and we expect a better race. He is his own horse. He does things his own way."
$150,000 Razorback Handicap (gr. III, Race 9, 5:02 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Going Ballistic (FL), 115, M. Clifton Berry
2. Jonesboro (KY), 117, Calvin H. Borel
3. Racketeer (KY), 113, Clinton L. Potts
4. Encaustic (MD), 112, Larry Melancon
5. Prom Shoes (KY), 114, Christopher A. Emigh
6. Zanjero (KY), 118, Luis S. Quinonez
7. Spotsgone (KY), 116, Joe M. Johnson
8. Gouldings Green (KY), 114, Eusebio Razo, Jr.